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Sensei Kazutaka Otsuka, grandson of Hironori Otsuka, graciously agreed to let me interview him while visiting our home in Lewisburg, Tennessee. This interview took place just a few hours before he conducted the winter seminars at our dojo on Friday, November 2, 2007. We talked about many things and I tried to ask questions that would be of interest to those who have just joined our organization and also to those who have been involved in Wado Ryu for many years.  Jenny Carter

Mrs.Carter: One thing that interested me, looking at your biography on the US Eastern Wado Ryu website, I saw that when you were a child, you rebelled against taking karate.

Sensei Kazutaka Otsuka: I started karate when I was five or six years old but didnít stay a long time. I wanted to quit because I didnít like so much karate. So I said to my father, ĎIíd like to quit.í  He said, ĎOkay, but you have to do something else in the martial arts. So, he put me in Iaido. So I continued at the Iaido until I became a university student, 18 years old.Ē

C: What is that martial art?  I am not familiar with it.

O: Iaido is Japanese swordsmanship, practice with a sword. They do just kata, the forms.

C: Is it hard with your own child?  What is his name?

O: BenoÓt. 

C: Your son is 12 and really involved in martial arts? And heís not taking any other martial art [except Wado] now?

O: No. This year he studied basketball because heís really tall. He wanted to do something besides karate. Finally he became a basketball player.

C: A young student in our class, Myra Walker, wanted me to ask if you ever did any other sports besides the martial arts.

O: Yes, I did. When I was a junior in high school, I was on a team of football [soccer]. I was doing that for three years. After I went to high school, I started club wrestling.Ē

C: This is regular wrestling, not sumo? (I Laugh)

O: Yes, I was doing this for three years.  I became 2nd place in Tokyo. If I won another game, I could be regional tournament [champion]. Unfortunately, my opponent was [the] senior student. So, we know each other. (We both laugh)

C: He knew all your moves, didnít he?

O: Yes.

C: When you came to this country, didnít you go to college here?

O: Yeah, I went to Colorado University to study English in 1994. Then six months later, my wife came to my class. (Laughs)

C: Oh, you met her there?

O: Yes, yes.

C: Where did she come from originally?

O: From France.

C: Sheís French!  What is her name?

O: Marie-Caroline.

C: Thatís a pretty name. I like that.  Has she ever done any martial arts?

O: The last two years before coming to France, she did karate with the childrenís class.  Finally, she was interested. Unfortunately, we decided to move to France. After we moved to France, there was no more time to spend on karate.Ē

C: Well, it takes a lot of time. We were talking before about getting tired and rebelling. You probably had to do more classes or take more classes than most children in this country would take. How much were you working out when you were a little boy when you were in Wado?

O: When I was a child, there wasnít any dojo for my Wado Ryu style. My father always was taking [me] to some other places which were pretty far away from [my home], so it was pretty difficult to do.Ē

C: So he was taking you with him to these dojos?

O: Yeah. Yeah. I was too young, so sometimes I had to stay until the adult class finished. See it was a little difficult for a [small boy].Ē

C: That was very hard!

O: See that was also the reason I quit.

C: I understand! That kind of explains things. That was hard on you. How much do you work out now?

O: Well, right now itís kind of difficult to find a place for the training. I do training by myself every morning about an hour and a half. And I have two classes, two times a week.  I have a regular class now. I work out aboutÖ

C: You mean you are teaching the class?

O: Yeah, about three hours each and on other days right now, like a Monday, I train with the Tae Kwon Do people. Because Iíve got a friend with the Tae Kwon Do people and they let me use their dojo for free lessons, so I just join and do the fighting things. Like on Friday, thereís another karate dojo which is taught by the world champion of karate. This French guy who is a friend used to be world champion.Ē

C: So you go to his class? You like to be a student in other words sometimes?

O: No, I have no choice right now, because there is not so much a place for training myself. So [if I become a student] still I can keep training.Ē

C: So you would prefer to be teaching classes?

O: Yes.

C: What would you say is the secret to developing the skill level in your family?  Many of us have worked out with your father and with you. Most of the people here look at you and say, weíre not to that level, and I guess most of us spend too little time, thatís our problem. I have to say some of itís got to be inherited from your father. (He smiles) Some of it may just be the knowledge, working with the people youíve worked with. Did you get to work out with your grandfather?

A No, I did not because of the reason [we talked about before]. My grandfather was also traveling around all the time; he didnít have any [time].

C: And you didnít get to work out [with him]?

O: No, itís awful, Jenny.

C: Oh it is.

O: But when my father and my grandfather had a demonstration, I also went to see their demonstrations, so I have [vivid memories] of that.

C: Thatís good. And I guess you did get to work out with your father some as you did start to train. Did he give you special attention?

O: No, he treat me as a normal student, especially much worse than a normal student. So, he didnít teach me any technique. So, when I was training in his class, he sometimes said, ĎYour shoulder is too much up!í  Thatís it!  (We both laugh)  So I donít know how much up! Right side or left side (he laughs some more). Itís always like that.Ē

C: It is always like that with parents teaching their children.

O: So of course I have to figure out myself why he said that every time.  Just one word; there must be something wrong.

C: Of course you were much older then.  When my son was young, he would get very upset when he missed a move in a kata. He put that pressure on himself, and that was just with a local school. Did you feel that pressure?

O: No, because when I was a child I didnít do karate, so I didnít have that kind of pressure until I became 17-years-old and did karate again. But from 17-years-old there everyone is looking at me as 3rd generation of Wado Ryu. Thatís what made pressure; everybody thinks Iím the one thatís going to be some day the third generation and ĎWhy doesnít he know any kata?í  (He laughs and I laugh with him.)  But, I didnít think about so much to take care of Wado Ryu in that time, just to keep training for myself to find out what is Wado Ryu, not to think about too much to take care of the family job. Thatís helped me a lot.

C: Do you have any brothers and sisters?

O: I have one sister and one brother. Especially my youngest brother, he started karate before me. He also said he isnít interested. My father was upset and he said, ĎIf you donít like it, then you quit. And, he quit next day and he never came back. (Laughs) My sister always keep going and coming out and going and coming and is not so much serious.

C:  Does she still practice?

O: Right now yes. After I moved to France she was the one that had to take care of the childrenís class in Tokyo. Tokyo is a big town, too much town.Ē

C: Do you like living in France?

O: Yeah, right now especially the south of France is always sunny, nice weather everyday and also [not] far away from the ocean. Itís a really nice place.Ē

C: So do you plan to stay there? Is this just a temporary thing?

O: Well, we donít know yet. Even moving to France, I didnít know how I can start karate again or maybe I canít make it. We didnít think about that fact. We are lucky. The French Karate Federation, they were interested in me and so they let me into the karate world again.

C: Are you saying there arenít that many Wado people in France?

O: They have 5,000 students, but in France, the system is if you want to teach karate you have to have a license from the French Karate Federation, plus you have to have a National Sports Instructor Diploma. Those two.

O: So, luckily, the President of the Karate Federation in France, he said I can give you 6th Dan French Karate Federation, so already like that I can start as a volunteer.Ē

C: Something Iíve always wanted to know, Why is your last name sometimes spelled with an ďHĒ and sometimes not?

O: Well, see my name is Otsuka. In countries here that speak English, ďOHĒ is the sound of ďO.Ē My father thought it was much closer to the Ohtsuka name.  So he put in the ďOH.Ē In Japan, they donít recognize that sound on the passport, only one ďOĒ in Otsuka.

C: So you use Otsuka [and he uses Ohtsuka]?

O: Yes.

C: So you could spell it either way, but the sound would be closer to oh?

O: Yes. Even in France the people have a problem. My father uses an ďHĒ but why not me? (He laughs.)

C: Changing the subject totally, what do you thinkÖ youíve been here several times to the United States. You came with your father before. What do you think is the difference in the way American karate students are and the way they are in other countries?  Is there a difference?

O: Hmmm. Well, especially here is associated with American karate styles sometimes. I can see in such studentsÖ really they like to use a weapon like that sometimes, but on the other hand, even in those kinds of situations, the group of Wado Ryu is still traditional here. That, for me, is amazing.Ē

C: I think we try very hard.

O: Especially Mr. Patterson, [Johnís] father, is American and kept all exactly like the Japanese old system. Thatís really amazing. And in the other part of America there are some Japanese instructors that are teaching like the old Japanese way.

C: So theyíre doing a pretty good job, too, of keeping it the same?

O: Uh huh.

C: In France or England, would Wado students look the same as what we are used to?

O: For me, everybody does the same Wado Ryu but eachÖeven in Japan each dojo has a different character of Wado Ryu. Itís a little bit different. So, like that each country has their own way of doing Wado Ryu; here, too, because it depends on the instructor. See like [when you] teach karateÖto copy is impossible. Karate reflects the character of each person. That one has to recognize. See, otherwise itís just like uhÖ Normally, in karate, kata has two different ways. Kata is a form. The one is a form, each can be changed into many different shapes, thatís also form (makes molding motions with hands like molding clay). The other form is just like a mold, so to make something, you put it in and make a shape and another one, the same, always same. (He imitates pouring liquid into a mold over and over.) You canít change anything. It has to be just for one reason. Wado Ryu doesnít want to make that kind of form. It has to be flexible.

C: I see. That does go with what we understood from your father and your grandfather. I believe I remember he called kata a living thing.

O: Yeah. Yeah. Uh huh.Ē

C: You think of it that way?

O: Yes, I think so. Even me. My kata from 20 years old, 30 years old, and now, every detail is different. When I was young I sought (especially Wado Ryu) to try not to use any wasted energy or wasted motion, or to relax more. So, when I was 20 years old, I heard through my father always the same thing [to relax].  So I thought ĎItís already enough. Iím relaxed.í But it wasnít!  Because at 30 years old, I realized I had too much muscles. So I quit those push ups, sit-ups, and those things when I become thirty years old.  Then, after pass 35 years old, I thought, ĎOkay, now Iím getting relaxed more.í But again, when I become 40, still I feel I kept some tension in my shoulders, my body. So, like that [at] every age you can help yourself, try to make more relaxed.Ē

C: Mike Burgess wanted me to ask you, as you get older, obviously some things you canít do as well and you get injuries. I think the word he used was metaphysical. Are there other things about the spiritual or emotional part of you that makes up for the fact that you canít do some of the physical? Maybe the knowledge that you have?

O: I think [with] a human being, everything [is] possible with how you think about what you do, even how much you get injured [in] your body. Still the mind can change; you can create energy to go through those difficulties. In karate itís really important to have that idea. With that you can pretty much go through a difficult situation. So, even me, I thought Iím strong enough. I like kumite for competition; No not competition, but training with other students. When I arrived in France, I started karate again. After I spent four months in France I found finally a dojo, again [I was] training. I went there to the dojo three times. The third time when I was doing kumite, by accident I was fighting against a really tall guy and the tall guy was holding an arm in front of my head like that. So I enter to give punch (demonstrates a body shift going under extended arm). [Unfortunately] the corner of his little finger struck the corner of my head. My head goes backward and I got hernia.

C: A herniated disk?

O: Yes, when I got whiplash, suddenly I felt electricity going all through my arms.  But, in 3 seconds, I just shook my hand and it disappeared. I thought, ĎItís okay.í [Keep] fighting again. But after I finished the training, during two days I felt a weird tingling feeling in these two points here, so that never disappeared entirely in two days. I say, ďThatís weird,Ē and decided to go see a doctor. I went to a hospital and they took x-rays and the doctor said, ďYou need surgery immediately. Otherwise you are going to have a problem with respiration.Ē

C: Breathing and everything, right?

O: Right. Okay.

C: Scary.

O: (nods) Uh huh. I changed my disk into the artificial disk.Ē

C: Oh, okay.

O: Surgery was okay, but during surgery I donít know, during surgery or something else, I kept [getting a] tingling feeling or numbness in both arms and the left side of my body. After the surgery I couldnít walk during three months. I could walk, but really slowly like a ninety or hundred year old man. I was really walking slowly. The doctor thought I could never come back to karate again. I believed in myself, inside, itís okay itís okay. Still I can do it. I can do it. So that my ideas made me [or] made my body change when I thought about it little by little.Ē

C: So you think thatís the most important thing; itís just having the will to do it?

O: Yeah. Uh huh. Even the doctor.. [so many times the] doctor said, ďMr. Otsuka you should not move after the surgery.Ē But still I was training like (demonstrates slow hand movement and we both laugh) old man like really slowly like Tai Chi. I kept doing it.Ē

C: You were talking about relaxing. I think thatís one of the things that Iíve always admired anytime I watched you or your father when he was here.  Always the relaxation and trying to copy that, trying to get more relaxed, because I think Americans, especially, have a tendency to really be like boxers. We all do that to a certain extent and trying to relax more is one of the important things.

O: Yeah, thatísÖ the relaxation, I think, is relating to the whole body, physically. Itís not only to relax yourself mentally. If you canít relax your body, you canít relax yourself. So, the body itself also has to be flexible to be able to relax more. So, like that [what] I see is mostly Occidental people are pretty much stiff everywhere.Ē (Starts laughing loudly.)

C: Yes, yes, I know, itís true. (We both laugh.)

We stop to speak with my son and husband when they come through the room. Roe Carter withdraws diplomatically,  and my son Bill stays to hear the remainder of the interview. We talk about how hard it is being the teacherís son.

O: Right now I have difficulty with my son, also.

C: Yes, I was wondering how that was going. (I explain to Bill) His son is 12 and he said he is a champion.

O: The kumite champion of France for his age and weight. They have different weight divisions for fighting.

C: For my newspaperÖ.something that would appeal to the publicÖ.from the point of view of the public, how is our system different from the others?

 O: Well, first the system of Wado Ryu did not originally come only from karate. That is because my grandfather start from jujitsu. After the Father of Karate he studied and then afterward he mixed jujitsu and karate. From that point also Wado Ryu is a little bit different from others. And my grandfather also taught not to use too much muscles to move your body. Thereís another way to create energy. Thatís all he wanted to teach, which is sometimes pretty similar to another style of martial arts.  Like, uh, especially swordsmanship of Japan. I never heard of any Samurai that did pushups, sit-ups, or muscle training. But, still, they could move very quickly against an opponent. Thatís important to be able to react. Because what they trained was just one thousand times, just swing the katana, the sword. Morning, afternoon, night, thatís it. They were training. That creates more relaxed muscles than just see how much you can have muscles. So Wado Ryu is also the same. Try not to develop an amount of muscles. Try not to use too much muscle to move your bodyĒ

C: When you first were talking about your grandfather, I didnít get whether you said that was his idea or what he learned from Funakoshi, about the relaxation.

 O: My grandfather went to study under Founder Sensei but Founder Sensei was a specialist in kata. He knew the order of each movement of kata, but he didnít study, or he didnít know, or he didnít want to teach, I donít know, but when my grandfather asked what was the meaning of each movement he didnít give any answer. So my grandfather wondered why kata has to move like this. Sometimes he went to visit another Okinawan sensei. Sometimes they could give some answer; mostly it was very difficult to find out. Finally, after [he broke away from Funakoshi Sensei] and created Wado Ryu, he joined the idea of jujitsu to kata. Thatís when he found out this movement must be similar to applications from some technique of jujitsu. That was his job, to find the meaning of each kata.

C: Thatís why we try to always know what we are doing in kata, not just go through the motions?

 O: Yes, maybe so. Even for that reason Wado Ryu is a little bit different from other karate styles.Ē

 C: The body shifting or taisubaki seems to be different from other types of martial arts.  Itís more subtle.

 O: I donít know subtle.Ē

 C: Whatís another word for that?  Not as large a movement, just more (I motion with my hands.)

 O: Minimum movement to be effective. Not only Wado Ryu, all sport is kind of the same. When you become professional, they use minimum force to move themselves. In sports they can find out when they become professional. On the other hand, in karate or martial arts, you have to study from the beginning, how you have to twist your hips or how to locate your center of body, which is never taught by any other sports. That is why karate is sometimes too difficult for some people. Like baseball, if you have a ball and two gloves, even if you donít have any knowledge, still you can start to play. But with karate, without knowledge, "Letís play karateí, to punch each other is very dangerous. Thatís karate. Itís good to study from basic and also difficult for some people to study.

 [Studying] karate is something similar to life, normal life. In general, when you study some subject in school you donít study from something very difficult. You always start [with the basics], then little by little step up and find out that you can [apply this]. Kata is a reflection of normal life.

 C: Do you want to be teaching more than you are now?

 O: Right now I mostly concentrate on [doing the seminars on] the weekends. ď

 C: You do that a lot?

 O: Right now I have a seminar about once or twice every month. The system of France is about two days, eight hours of seminars. Also I travel to England sometimes and other countries too.  Like Norway. Next year I am going to the Netherlands [and] after that, Germany.

 C: My last question would just be why is karate important?  It is important in every aspect of your life, is it not?

 O: Yeah, especially in my family job. Itís in my blood, so whatever I do, Iím thinking like karate.  When you do a fight against someone, you have to read the opponentís mind or there are many ways to feint a person or to try to attract the other person coming closer and then find some good timing to attack. Many things you can use for normal life. Thatís alwaysÖ when I do something I always [think], ď[What] if I do [like] karate in this situation? In life, maybe itís a similar timing of this technique.Ē  Like kata always!

 

 

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